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The Violin


A Chicago firm is sending a neat little pamphlet to professionals and amateur violinists throughout the country. This pamphlet at once engages the recipient's attention, for, aside from its various half-tone reproductions of new fiddles that are described as being exceptionally superior instruments, its pages contain facsimile reproductions of testimonial letters from a number of the best- known artists now before the public. These letters, it seems needless to say, extol the virtues of the instruments and their maker. The latter would certainly have had no reason for publishing them had they contained aught but eulogy of his skill. Nor is he open to criticism for having chosen this practical method of familiarizing the general public with his name and his work. But the question which naturally arises upon a perusal of such testimonials is: Are they the frank, sincere expressions of opinion of experienced violinists, and are they to be relied upon by those who contemplate purchasing a fiddle?
The present writer is unfamiliar with the fiddles under discussion. He has neither seen nor examined an instrument by the Chicago fiddle-maker, and is consequently in no position to formulate opinions, favorable or otherwise. But what does really interest him, and should interest many others, is this question of sincerity on the part of trusted and respected artists who, in too many cases, lead the public astray by thoughtless eulogy of work that is undeserving of praise.
A case very much to the point is the advertisement of a New York dealer who gives the widest publication to a letter from a well-known artist. In this letter the violinist has no hesitancy in saying that the dealer has made such a remarkable copy of his own instrument that the new fiddle is unquestionably superior to the old one. Now, when one stops to consider that this artist is the happy possessor of one of the finest specimens of one of the greatest Italian masters, his extraordinary testimonial is well-calculated to inspire the reader with the profoundest respect for the fiddle-maker who has achieved so much. But are there not some intelligent readers of this letter who will ask: Why does this artist, in his public work, decline to play on this marvelous new instrument, preferring always the creation of the old Italian master? And, again, will not the same intelligent readers, who happen to know from personal experience that the fiddles of this particular maker are raw, unbaked efforts—will not they be justified in concluding that either the advertiser has resorted to some dishonest method to obtain such a testimonial, or the artist who gave it lacks, for some reason, the courage of his convictions, and is dishonorable enough to accept some form of compensation for his fluent falsehoods?
This question of artists' testimonials is a serious one. It is a question which concerns the general public, as will be clearly shown. It is a matter of indifference to the general public, or to the individual, what eulogies an artist may bestow on a fiddle- maker's work, so long as such praise is not utilized by the fiddle-maker as a means of introducing and disposing of his instruments; but the moment an artist's testimonial becomes an important factor in the selling of a fiddle, the general public is at once not only interested in the artist's written judgment and the fiddle-maker's representations, but it has the right to inquire closely into the former's sincerity and the latter's business probity. And this right is a natural one, inasmuch as the majority of fiddle- purchasers are influenced in their choice of an instrument by the experienced player's verdict and the dealer's representations. The general public is absolutely ignorant of everything appertaining to a fiddle, and is necessarily compelled to rely upon the knowledge and honesty of the dealer and the professional when purchasing an instrument.
It follows, then, that the fiddle-purchasing public is more than ordinarily interested in learning whether the artist's verdict is sincere and the dealer's statement in accordance with fact.
Let us calmly consider the claims of the two fiddle- makers alluded to, and we shall have little difficulty in arriving at a just and sensible conclusion. The Chicago man publishes letters from a number of artists of international reputation who, if their letters are to be trusted, regard his genius as overshadowing that of Stradivarius. The fiddle-maker himself modestly calls the public's attention to the fact that one of his instruments, presented to an estimable young artist, is the "greatest violin in existence." Unfortunately, we have no means, at the present time, of ascertaining the actual artistic worth of this particular instrument. The player who is announced as the recipient of this priceless gift continues to perform in public on an old Italian fiddle, and, strange to say, persists in his unwillingness to give music-lovers the uncommon pleasure of listening to this exceptional instrument. Why, we ask, does not this artist play even occasionally on so noble a violin? Surely he has nothing to lose if the fiddle is all that is claimed for it! Indeed, he has much to gain by a public demonstration of the worth of his judgment and the virtues of the fiddle; yet he calmly continues to ignore this fiddle, and, in public, at least, clings to his old Italian with a devotion that is unmistakable.
The case of the New York fiddle-maker is almost identical. We say almost, for there is one point of difference which must not be disregarded. It is this: of the Chicago man's merits we know nothing from personal experience; with the New York fiddle- maker's work we are thoroughly familiar. The former we cannot justly praise or condemn; the latter we unhesitatingly decline to recognize as a skilful maker of fiddles. And, to be yet more emphatic in the matter, we wish to say that we have examined many fiddles by the New York maker, but have failed to discover in them even ordinary merit. Nor do we stand alone in our opinion, for it would be difficult, if not impossible, to discover one prominent artist who ventures publicly to play upon an instrument by this maker.
Is it not, then, remarkable that a player of excellent standing in the profession should give such a fiddle-maker a testimonial letter of which a Vuillaume or a Lupot might well feel proud? And, having written such a letter, ostensibly for publication, is it not yet more remarkable that this player, too, clings to his Italian fiddle, and continues to scorn the modern product which he has so lavishly praised?
Of one thing we may feel reasonably certain: there are few fiddle-makers who would risk the consequences of publishing a letter which existed only in their imagination. Also, there can be no question that, from a business point of view, all makers are justified in publishing any eulogistic letter which they may receive. There is always a strong probability, of course, that letters used for advertising purposes are obtained under peculiar circumstances. But that is neither here nor there. With an artist's testimonial in his possession, no matter how obtained, the fiddle- maker's position is impregnable.
But how about the artist who, by a thoughtless or deliberate act, makes misrepresentation possible? Is it not plain that, in such a matter, the burden of responsibility rests heavily upon him? And is it not equally clear that he is guilty of a dishonorable act when he presents a fiddle-maker with a testimonial which he knows is undeserved? He may not, and doubtless does not, appreciate, at the time, that many ignorant persons, influenced wholly by his letter, will purchase the worthless instruments of an incompetent fiddle-maker. But his offense is not easily condoned, and he deserves the contempt of all honest-minded men.
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One of our correspondents, who seems to be equally intelligent and sincere, recently wrote us that   (referring to the analytical notes on the Rode Caprices) "such writings fall on barren soil in America." That this correspondent heartily approved of serious and helpful writing was made sufficiently clear to us in various ways; but that he honestly doubted the average student's appreciation of our more serious efforts was too obvious to admit of any misconstruction.
We have been far from willing to admit that our correspondent's views, in this particular question, are either just or correct. Indeed, our opinion of the intelligence of American music-students is such that it is almost impossible for us to believe that they are uninterested in, and place no value upon, honest pedagogical effort. And yet we are sometimes tempted to believe that our correspondent is not entirely wrong. We are still convinced that he goes too far in saying that "such writings fall on barren soil in America"; but we reluctantly admit that, harsh as it may seem, many facts apparently bear out his verdict.
Now, such an admission, it must be understood, is not the result of any disappointment on our part with the degree of interest manifested in this department. Quite the contrary. We are delighted to be in a position to say that the readers of the violin department are unexpectedly numerous; and that these are found in large numbers in the ranks of the singers and pianoforte players is especially gratifying. But what naturally disappoints us, at times, and seems also to evidence in some degree that the correspondent alluded to is not entirely mistaken in his judgment, is the kind of interest which violinists display in the columns devoted to their advancement. By this, we mean, that, despite the many letters constantly addressed to us by students and teachers, it is the exception, not the rule, for us to receive a communication which indicates that its writer's thoughts are occupied with the vital or even more important things bearing on his art. Most letters which we receive relate, we regret to say, either to trifling matters that hardly deserve our attention or to the least interesting and important features of violin-playing. A small, very small, minority deal with the questions which should concern all earnest students of the art; and even these indicate an unmistakable hesitation on the part of their writers to obtain the broadest possible views and the utmost information.
It is this peculiar lassitude that necessarily disappoints us. We have tried to make it perfectly clear to all our readers that their interests are ours, and that it will always be a source of pleasure to us to contribute to their musical and instrumental welfare. But despite our assurances to this effect, and the efforts that are made to invent means of being helpful to students, the response to these efforts is often only lukewarm and never wholly satisfying. Nothing more convincingly proves the justice of our criticism than the half-hearted interest which our readers display in questions of fingering and phrasing. The October issue of The Etude contained a melody, unfingered and unphrased, which was intended to bring out our readers' ideas and test their musical and instrumental knowledge. This idea was introduced in these columns many months ago, and those who have taken advantage of the opportunities it affords in acquiring knowledge of two interesting and (ofttimes) perplexing questions, have doubtless profited, to some extent, by their devotion to these subjects. But it is quite impossible for us to surmise whether an actual, general interest is being taken in the work under consideration, because comparatively few readers respond to our invitation. Many may timidly shrink from submitting their ideas to us, foolishly believing that their efforts are too crude to interest others; but the majority are probably silent because they are indifferent to any plan which calls for special mental exertion. We say probably, because we have no means of ascertaining the attitude of the many students who, one would naturally suppose, are eager to advance themselves in their art, but who, when opportunities are offered them for doing so, seem strangely apathetic and unambitious. At least, we are forced to take this view of the matter, though we do so with great reluctance.
But, unlike our less optimistic correspondent, we cannot feel that our readers are unappreciative of all earnest efforts made in their behalf. We hope, with excellent reason, that the day is not far distant when they will realize that the study of the violin requires something more than a few hours' daily drudgery— that violin-playing is an art which requires intellectuality and breadth of vision.
In the meantime we shall continue to offer our readers such material as we feel is beneficial for the hours of earnest study as well as the relaxed mood. The "Melody" which appeared last month will be republished in its complete form in the December issue of The Etude. This will enable many of our readers who have not yet responded to our invitation to study this little melody and submit to us the results of their efforts. All communications, however, should reach the office of The Etude not later than December 1st.
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It may be remembered that, before Jan Kubelik's visit to the United States, we predicted that many American students, fascinated by the young Bohemian's virtuosity, would desperately endeavor to study with Kubelik's teacher, Mr. Sevcik. It was easy enough to foresee that, among the hundreds of ambitious young players who would eagerly attend Kubelik's concerts, there would be many to whom the higher art of violin-playing makes no appeal, many to whom a prodigious technic represents the end and aim of instrumental art, many whom the enthusiasm of the hour would render incapable of calm judgment. And it has come to pass, as was predicted, that American students who had planned their work on entirely different lines have fled to Mr. Sevcik, and are now devoting their lives to the acquisition of technic. They confidently believe, or did believe some time ago: firstly, that study with Kubelik's teacher must necessarily yield for them the same degree of technical facility achieved by the young Bohemian; secondly, that nothing is so much worth striving for as this startling command of the fingerboard. They will study with Sevcik several years, and return to the United States a bitter disappointment to their relatives and friends. Our critics will pity them, but they will also consider it their duty to tell these misguided young people some plain, unvarnished truths. Their attempt to follow in the footsteps of Jan Kubelik will prove a dismal failure, and they will denounce our critics, our public, and the land of their birth.
We are shortly to make the acquaintance of another Sevcik disciple. When Kocian makes his first appearance in New York we shall probably witness scenes similar to those that marked Jan Kubelik's first performance in the United States. And, if what we are told regarding this young man's abilities proves true, his playing, like Kubelik's, will excite our compassion rather than arouse our admiration.
We certainly advise our readers to listen to Kocian; but, for their own sakes, we entreat them not to confound his digital skill with what is truly art. Dexterity of the fingers, even in a degree that may be pronounced phenomenal, no more approaches true art than do the prestidigitator's amazing feats. Alas, too often it bars the way to high artistic achievement. The passion for it converts the gifted young musician into a monomaniac, it leaves him no time, no thought, no mental strength for the noblest things in music. It is an overwhelming passion which deprives the victim of sane enjoyment and wholesome musical views.
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The Sixteenth Caprice
The average player is strongly tempted to play this Caprice too slowly. The tempo mark in the Vieuxtemps edition is 108 eighths, which is approximately correct, or at least a very logical tempo. A characteristic feature of this study, as far as bowing is concerned, is its limitations as to length of stroke. It will be observed that what is chiefly required is a full-length stroke; but, when a lesser amount of bow is either necessary or desirable, the musical design is such that the player finds himself invariably at the point of the bow. The opening measures present a combination of full-length strokes and sharp, detached bowing at the point. The latter, occurring in the second and a number of similar measures, must be very clear-cut and crisp, and the wrist must not be aided by the forearm. In the 6th measure, which begins with the up-bow, the player is carried to the heel of the bow, which, in the brief pause of a thirty-second, should be lifted from the string. This is a point in bowing which seems to perplex many pupils. The general impression seems to be that, since the bow remains on the string when playing detached notes at the point (like in the 5th measure), it necessarily follows that it should not have the string in any similar work. But the advisability of lifting the bow when playing such a figure at the heel will surely be obvious to the player if he will make the experiment of clinging to the string. He will find that his bowing lacks freedom, and that his tone is comparatively cramped.
In the 8th measure, and all others resembling it, there is always a strong tendency to accent the highest tone rather than gradually to increase and diminish the volume of tone throughout the measure. Indeed, the design of the 8th and 10th measures is such that it will be found difficult to avoid such an accent; but the pupil should persist in his endeavor to carry out Rode's intention, and his efforts will surely result in a better general command of the bow.
The trills in the 15th and 16th measures are often anticipated. That is, the player's appreciation of their awkwardness makes him particularly anxious to be well rid of them; with the inevitable result that he not only sacrifices rhythmical accuracy, but also mars the beauty of the grace-note and the trill.
The beautiful episode in B-flat major offers the player a fine opportunity to display his knowledge of style. The possibilities in contrast, of shading, and musical meaning should receive the closest study. The grace-note at the beginning of the 38th measure should be nicely calculated. It is not a so-called long grace-note, neither should it receive the conventional treatment. Its exact duration is difficult to determine, and certainly impossible to make perfectly clear to the reader with only the aid of words. Perhaps the nearest approach to accuracy would be to say that its time-value is a happy medium between the conventional and the long grace-note.
The chains of trills, beginning in the 41st measure, present a musical problem whose solution must be left to the individual player. The last trill in the descending chain obviously requires no grace-notes; but it is anything but clear to the player whether, in the ascending chain, the same rule should be followed. Neither Rode nor his illustrious editor, Vieuxtemps, took the trouble to make this point clear. Such grace- notes are both possible and admissible. They violate no musical principles, but, on the contrary, carry out the rule governing the termination of trills. Yet their omission would seem to many players both logical and desirable. This is undoubtedly one of those questions which must be left to individual taste and judgment, since there exists neither a technical nor musical law to restrict the choice of the player. Such a question is easily decided, for instance, in the group of trills extending from the 54th measure throughout the 55th. Here one's musical instinct unerringly decides in favor of an omission of the grace-notes on the terminal trill. And also in the 56th and 57th measures it is quite clear that grace-notes are not desirable.
The employment of the staccato dot in the 80th and 84th measures is misleading. The composer should have employed the dash, instead of the dot, as in the following illustration:
Though very trying to the wrist, on which it makes uncommon demands, this Caprice is of the greatest value to the student. It should not be attempted in the furious tempo evidently desired by its author—at least, not until the player has had much experience with it in a moderate tempo. In fact, it should be studied chiefly in a slow tempo, even though the player is capable of performing it in the tempo desired by the composer. The requisite strength and flexibility of the wrist can only be acquired with a slow and patient toil.
Musically, sharp accentuations are the characteristic features of this Caprice. They materially increase its difficulties, especially when they occur on the up-bow; but the pupil should not rest content until he is capable of giving every accented note the utmost prominence.
This Caprice is one of the number that require the teacher's personal guidance. It is so intimately associated with the technics of the bow that little can be said or written of it that would prove greatly helpful to the pupil. A few observations, however, may assist most of my readers.
The trill in the 68th measure, and those that occur in the five measures beginning with the 76th should have terminal grace-notes. There is, it is true, no absolute agreement among artists on this point; but, leaving aside the question of individual taste and judgment, there is, musically, so much in favor of playing these grace-notes that it is safest not to omit them. The same applies to subsequent trills.
The piano at the beginning of the 81st measure must not influence what precedes it. Its introduction, like that of every piano following suddenly upon a strong, vigorous tone, is naturally difficult; but the musical effect desired is a sudden piano, not one following a diminution of tone in the preceding measure.
(To be continued.)
Music, like literature, has its secondary, even its low, forms, to be found in many a melodrama, vaudeville, or worse. The same situation or the same personage—nay, the same action—may inspire the most exquisite or the most trivial music. Strangely unlike are the "Postilion" songs of Schubert and Lecocq. The great art is associated with our noblest emotions, and alas—with our most mediocre pleasures; songs are written for the church, for the conservatory, for the field of battle—but also for the circus and the cafe-chant ants; to the strains of music man dreams and weeps, he thinks and prays; but no less to musical rhythms do animals dance and horses—even wooden horses—revolve. No art is more accessible, more at the beck and call of the vulgar. What she does for man, he turns to her destruction, rendering her evil for good; she elevates him, but he degrades her, and the crimes of the multitude, like their great deeds, accomplish themselves to the strains of a song. —Bellaigue.

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